International Year of Languages

Most of you probably know that the UN have declared 2008 the “International Year of Languages”. In a message by Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, we can read the following:

The Organization is fully aware of the crucial importance of languages when seen against the many challenges that humanity will have to face over the next few decades. Languages are indeed essential to the identity of groups and individuals and to their peaceful coexistence. They constitute a strategic factor of progress towards sustainable development and a harmonious relationship between the global and the local context. (…)

However, within the space of a few generations, more than 50% of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear. Less than a quarter of those languages are currently used in schools and in cyberspace, and most are used only sporadically. Thousands of languages — though mastered by those populations for whom it is the daily means of expression — are absent from education systems, the media, publishing and the public domain in general. (…)

UNESCO therefore invites governments, United Nations organizations, civil society organizations, educational institutions, professional associations and all other stakeholders to increase their own activities to foster respect for, and the promotion and protection of all languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts. (…) Our common goal is to ensure that the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in educational, administrative and legal systems, cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade, is recognized at the national, regional and international levels.

This message by the Director-General of UNESCO is also available in other languages, including:

You can learn more about the “International Year of Languages” on the internet portal of UNESCO and on the Eurolang website.

My question to all you Chadicists: What is our role in the preservation of linguistic diversity? What can we do to protect endangered languages — which includes most of the Chadic languages? Is teaching and research enough? What else should we do? Are you planning any activities connected to the “International Year of Languages” ?

You can use the comment function to share any ideas you have on this topic.


5 thoughts on “International Year of Languages”

  1. All

    What are we going to do? Answer, the usual things we do anyway. If you aren’t anyway interested already UNESCO isn’t going to persuade you

    Personally, I am completely tired of these sort of initiatives. They are started by people who don’t actually work with endangered languages and pass on by with clouds of waffle. Meanwhile nothing changes on the ground.

    As people who are currently working on minority languages in Nigeria will already know, there is a remarkable enthusiasm among speakers, and lots of energy around. The only people who are making use of this are the SIL and they have a limited personnel resource and a rather particular enterprise.

    What am I about to do? Well, I am off to Nigeria on Wednesday with the specific goal of contacting as many local groups as possible with a view to finding out what support they need and trying to provide it. What likely institutional and academic support am I likely to get for this enterprise? None.

  2. @Don Osborn:
    Thanks for linking to this post

    @Roger Blench:
    Thanks for your comment. I hope that more reactions will come. You seem to be quite pessimistic concerning the IYL 2008. On the other hand, you mention the strong enthusiasm among Chadic speakers to develop their languages . Let’s hope that they will benefit – somehow – from the initiative and that it won’t be all “clouds of waffle”.

    Good luck for your trip to Nigeria and more grease to your elbow!

  3. If I may follow up quickly with two items in answer to Roger’s comment and Uwe’s response:

    1) I think the key to IYL is not relying on UNESCO to carrying the whole burden, but unlike the other concurrent UN “Years,” there is not a structure to work with the UN & UNESCO. I’ve been going as far as to suggest that IYL could be used to develop some sort of structure (association, alliance) of diverse language-related activities – to raise the collective profile, facilitate communication/networking among initiatives that tend to focus (as rightly they should) on their specialized areas of work, and compile a common agenda for languages (to the extent this is possible).

    2) In regard to speakers of Chadic languages and their interest in language development, I really would like to keep contact about this. A new PanAfrican Localisation Network project will be starting soon and one of its sub-projects will seek to compile “locale data” for many African languages. Locales are fundamental to full language support on computers and the internet. To do this, there needs to be a mix of ICT experts, language experts (linguists), and native-speakers.

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